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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Make a Joyful Noise

Sep 01, 2007 01:00AM
Sound as a Creative and Healing Force

By Lisa Moore

Imagine your life as a harmonic symphony orchestra, with your many facets thought of as instruments. In a state of wellness, all the instruments are in tune with one another, creating the most beautiful music.

But if one instrument in that orchestra is slightly out of tune or off beat, the music loses some of its power and magic. When we become ill, it’s almost as though we have lost our sheet music and don't know the notes or where the downbeat is in the music.

Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., author of Sounds of Healing: A Physician Reveals the Therapeutic Power of Sound, Voice and Music, says that, "Sound enters the healing equation from several directions: It may alter cellular functions through energetic effects; it may entrain biological systems to function more homeostatically; it may calm the mind and therefore the body; or it may have emotional effects, which influence neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, which in turn help to regulate the immune system - the healer within."

Sound is considered the oldest form of healing and was a predominant part of the early teachings of the Greeks, Chinese, East Indians, Tibetans, Egyptians, American Indians, Mayas, and the Aztecs. Prayers, songs, stories, speech, music, chants and mantras must employ rhythm, melody and harmony to achieve union of body, mind and spirit.

From drum circles to poetry jams, karaoke to community choirs, people in Charlotte are using sound to reduce stress, express their creativity, unite as a community and spread joy.

Drumming: Using the Natural Power of Rhythm to Heal

Drumming is a practice that spans the globe culturally and has been used for centuries as a means of healing. Group drumming breaks down social barriers, promotes freedom of expression, non-verbal communication, unity and cooperation. Participants can awaken dormant emotions and unexplainable feelings of excitement, peace, and ecstasy.

On the first and third Sunday of each month females of all ages and backgrounds gather at Trinity United Church of Christ for a women’s drumming circle. Circle leader Caren Knox-Hundley took up drumming 7 years ago after years of watching drum circles from afar - realizing they were magical, but thinking she did not have the rhythm for it. The first time she tried it, she felt a profound shift.

“Drumming awakened me and I didn’t even know I was sleeping. My life changed because my awareness was revealed,” notes Knox-Hundley, who has since honed her skills through West African Drumming.

HealthRHYTHMS, a division of drum company Remo Inc., provides programs, training and the latest research supporting the use of drumming as an effective means for promoting and maintaining health and well-being. Their studies have shown that repetitive drumming changes brain wave activity, inducing a state of calm and focused awareness.

Research suggests that drumming decreases depression, anxiety, and stress, boosts immune system functioning and benefits physical health. Studies indicate those suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain may benefit from drumming.

Knox-Hundley believes that anyone can learn to drum and acknowledges that there is no part of creation that is without rhythm. “Rhythm exists in our bodies, our hearts, our breath,” she says. “Participation in the creation of rhythm is empowering. Drumming puts energy into whatever you want to do in life.”

Singing: Connecting with Your Natural Voice

We all do it – wail in the shower like a pop star, croon hymns at church, whisper sweet lullabies to a baby or respectfully sing the national anthem at a ballgame. We’re all singers on some level.

Singing is an incredibly powerful expression of our selves, reaching places and emotions we sometimes cannot access through our minds or our bodies. Singing unites and connects us, and is our personal and intimate instrument for healing.

The majority of us would probably not consider ourselves singers, too embarrassed to sing out, fearful that we may be off-key or that our voices may crack. The good new is that there is always room for improvement. Tiffaney Moore, owner of The Natural Voice in NoDa, believes that anyone can learn to sing and develop his or her voice. 

“On a physical level, voice involves gaining command of one’s breathing and isolating certain muscles to help produce certain voice qualities. Once students learn the anatomy and physiology of voice and apply it directly to their particular vocal art, they develop on levels that are measurable,” says Moore, who offers natural voice care and vocal instruction to singers, poets and speakers.   Moore believes that one of the most effective ways to heal is through the power of voice. She says the key to coaching people who are suffering is to allow them to experience the beauty of their instrument and pull out the positives. “It’s about freeing them from comparing their voice with others and being honest with them about their goals and expectations,” she states.

Moore recalls working with a pastor who had been told as a child that her singing voice was harsh. As a result, she dared not sing in her own church. She came to Moore shy and full of fear.

“We worked on quieting her self-criticism and helping her to speak life to herself,” recalls Moore. “In weeks she was belting out the most beautiful full voice spirituals she had ever allowed. She felt lifted by her own voice and had used her voice to heal herself. That is the ultimate form of healing!”

Performing: Break On Through to the Other Side

While singing in the shower is therapeutic enough for some people, performing live takes healing to a whole new level. Through Breakthrough Performance Workshops, Mick and Tess Pulver lead participants on a rockin' musical journey to a fully expressed life.

A life-long musician, Mick established Breakthrough Performance Workshops as a way to share the transformative power he found performing live with bands such as Three Dog Night.

"Onstage, I experienced moments of grace when the audience, the music and the musicians became one and time seemed to stand still. Being in the midst of the loud music, the roar of the crowd and the adrenaline rush from this wild, chaotic energy was the most profound experience of my life. I became fascinated with this energy and found I could let it take me, yet stay very grounded in a state of intense presence,” remembers Mick.

The Pulvers believe that singing is about expression, not perfection. "Whenever feelings are repressed, they become energy blocks in the body,” acknowledges Tess. “Singing in a state of present awareness, directed at these energy blocks, takes us to a state of grace, centered in our own being."

One satisfied participant recalls, “Singing in front of a live band gave me the confidence I needed to make changes in my life. It gave me the feeling of empowerment, of taking charge, of finally being free."

The workshops encourage people to take the risks and reap the rewards of expressing themselves publicly through song. “People find themselves going to work and asking for that raise, going home and renewing that long-term relationship, or going out and starting that new career they always wanted," Tess concludes.

Chanting: Stilling the Mind with Vibration and Intention

Chanting is an ancient universal practice throughout the world’s great spiritual, religious and cultural traditions. The meaning of each chant contains a transformative power and healing energy. Chanting helps to calm the mind and body during times of stress and fear and provides a sense of connection to the Divine.

The earliest music in the Jewish service had to do with the chanting of the Torah. Development of chanting in Christianity arose in the 4th and 5th centuries, primarily as a celebration of Mass and in the chanting of psalms during daily prayers. Hindu sages created mantras based on the subtle vibrations produced by everything in nature.

In Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion, the repetition of the mantra creates a mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness. As one meditates, the mantra becomes increasingly abstract and indistinct, until one is finally led into the field of pure consciousness from which the vibration arose.

Jon Seskivich, co-founder of the Universal Chanting Group in Raleigh leads chanting workshops and retreats. He has practiced meditation and chanting for over 20 years and includes Ram Dass as his mentor. Seskivich is also a nurse at Duke Hospital and specializes in pain and stress management. He notes that stress is a factor in more than half of all disease and believes that chanting can help reduce stress levels.

“People under stress tend to take more shallow breaths or have periods of holding their breath. When stress is high, or to mitigate the negative effects, it is more therapeutic to decrease the body’s need for oxygen by relaxing and also increasing the supply,” states Seskivich. “With its freedom of movement, chanting is relaxing and deepens the breathing.”

Seskivich notes that chanting in a group is a powerful force and says, “Through our voices, we join a stream of consciousness, emotion and devotion that has been flowing for centuries, sharing the joy of making inspirational music together."

How chanting works can be difficult to comprehend. “If we try to analyze and figure it out, it keeps us on the intellectual level. This can be fine for a while, but through chanting we can access our emotions, heart and spirit which can more easily deepen our connection with our souls," Seskevich concludes.

Lisa Moore is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, NC. She is a wannabe drummer, a closet singer and an avid chanter.

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